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Glenlough Bay, Donegal

Glenlough Bay _Emma Cownie

In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here).

We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for a book on the artist to write this post but it only had a couple of sentences about his visit to Ireland so the delay was unwarranted.

Sturral, Donegal by Rockwell Kent

Annie McGinley's House at Port (from the far side of the cove)
Annie McGinley’s House at Port (from the far side of the cove)


Rockwell Kent enjoyed Donegal and had originally intended to stay longer. He stored his larger paintings in Annie McGinley’s family home in Port (see my previous post about Port) but  he actually spent most of his time in the neighbouring valley of Glenlough. He rented a old barn (byre) from hearing-impaired farmer Dan Ward. He lived in it with his second wife, Frances, and used it as his studio. The paintings of the views from Glenlough, especially of the bay and the giant sea stacks, are quite remarkable.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas later stayed in Glenlough in the summer of 1935.  His stay didn’t go too well, he found the soliditude difficult to bear and he described himself as “lonely as Christ”. He left without paying his bills (although his editor later paid them).

Glenlough Bay - Rockwell Kent
Glenlough Bay – Rockwell Kent


When the Sunshines, Rockwell Kent
When the Sunshines, Rockwell Kent


Following in Rockwell Kent (and Dylan Thomas’s) footsteps is easier said than done. For a man who loved to visit and paint inacessible and elemental places in Newfoundland, Alaska, Terra Del Fuego and Greenland, maybe this should not be a surprise; even a century later.

The Road to Port
The Road to Port


Glenlough is an anomaly in this modern world. It is a lost valley. It’s located on the lip of a gale-swept edge of north-west Ireland. It’s an inacessible part of a very remote county. No one has lived there for more than 30 years. There is no road in and no road out. There isn’t even a footpath. The local farmers ride the curves of the rough landscape on their quad bikes.

There is a song “The Road to Glenlough” by fiddler, James Byrne, from near by Glencolumbkille, Donegal. The title must be some sort of joke as there is definately no road to Glenlough. I know, I have looked very hard for it. You can find Glenlough Bay on a map. Here. Where that red tag is.

Map of the North of IrelandMap of the North of Ireland – the red tag marks Glenlough Bay, Donegal

Map of an Port and Glenlough Bay
Map of an Port and Glenlough Bay – its all rock and blanket bogland

Google confidently suggests that route to Glenough Bay is quite straight forward. The straight white dotted line should immediately suggest wild over-confidence on the part of AI. Compare it to the dotted blue line, which is the single track road to An Port.  This road/track does not exist. Road to Glenlough

We decided to (sort of) follow the coastline from Port and climb up the very steep hill to Glenlough. The map only gives you a hint at how truly rough and rugged the terrain is. Its all elevated upland bog with and massive bolders dropped by glaciers thousands of years ago. The first part of our “walk” invovled a scramble up a steep path strewn with rocks (see photo below). I had my walking poles with me and I clambered  up this section like a weird four legged beast. I have a lot of pins and screws in my left leg from a bad break I had two years agao, and this section terrified me. I would not have done it without the additional help from the poles.

View of Port from above
View of Port Bay from above


We first passed the remains of the village of Port.

Ruined house at Port

With walking Poles: Photo credit: Seamas Johnston
With walking Poles: Photo credit: Seamas Johnston


The climb up hill seemed to go on for ever. Up and up. First we followed sheep tracks upwards. The sheep aren’t very interested into getting to Glenlough and so we were on constant lookout for ways upwards in the right sort of direction. The sheep track kept vering off to the left and right. I had never walked somewhere where there was no human path before. I found it quite exhausting looking for a way up. The ground was springey underfoot. It’s bogland. It was mostly dry. It was one of those cimbs where you keep expecting to reach the brow of the hill but there’s just more boggy incline, going up and up!

It's a long way up hill
It’s a long way up hill

Eventually, there were spots where we could pause and take our bearings. The view was something else.

View from ridge above Port
The view from ridge above Port

I haven’t mentioned that it was very windy too. We stayed away from the cliff edge. He sat in the shelter of a dip in the landscape to eat our sandwiches and look at the view towards An Port.

Fence to stop the sheep getting blown off the cliff top
The fence is to stop the sheep (and daft tourists) getting blown off the cliff top


A painting of sea stacks From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal) Emma Cownie

Dont go too near the edge!

Dont go too near the edge!

Donegal Ireland, Rockwell Kent
Donegal Ireland, Rockwell Kent

Finally, after a lot of walking when we were thinking of turning back, it appears. Our view of Glenlough Bay. We stand and gawp at it in wonder. It is vast and the colours are vivid. The colour of grass on the stacks is an intense green, the colour of the sea is a cold blue. The sea water is very clear and you can see the massive boulders on the raised beach from up here. It is hard to covey how stunning it is in a photo or a painting. We watched the shadows cast by the clouds pass over the landscape. It was mesmerising. The last time I starred at a landscape in such wonder when was when  we visited the incredible Grand Canyon.

Glenlough Bay
Cloud shadows over Glenlough Bay: Photo credit Emma Cownie

I wish we could have got closer but we were already very tired and decided to come back another time to go down to valley of Glenlough itself. I am not sure I am able bodied enough to make it down to the beach (see the video by Unique Ascent below) but we could come back with a drone camera and take photos. I just want to see the buildings where Rockwell Kent and Dylan Thomas stayed all those years ago.

Glen Lough - One of Rockwell Kent's "Missing" Irish paintings
Glen Lough – One of Rockwell Kent’s “Missing” Irish paintings


The Cottage , Rockwell Kent
The Cottage , Rockwell Kent


Unique Ascent’s video makes the visit to the shore of Glenlough Bay look so easy!


Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie


The Rock Climber’s Guide by Unique Ascent

Glencolmcille the rugged soul of Donegal

For more on Rockwell Kent

Click to access The-Missing-Irish-Kent-paintings.pdf


For Dylan Thomas’ visit to Glenlough 


Click to access The-Missing-Irish-Kent-paintings.pdf

10 thoughts on “Glenlough Bay, Donegal

  1. I enjoyed both posts….and have alway enjoyed Rockwell Kent’s work. An interesting man on many levels. I must say the B & B looks most appealing. Thank you Emma.

    1. I am not sure that Rockwell Kent was a very nice man – never seemed to able to be faithful to any of his (three) wives and he was always falling out with people. I like his paintings, though. The Irish ones are great but also the ones in Greenland and Alaska. He seemed to struggle to achieve success as an artist and then when he achieved it, he alienated Americans with his left wing politics. To be fair he was always pretty radical in his views – he tried to get the fishermen in Newfoundland to join a fisherman’s union. He got deported from Canada during WWI as a possible German spy. He did like to wind people up, it seems! He gave away a lot of his paintings (the Irish ones included) to the Soviet state. Many of them are in the Hermitage.

  2. What a stunning place. Loved reading your account of the trip through the landscape. Was rather suspenseful. I wonder if there’s a way to get sheep to take a greater interest in cultural sites, though. Better trails would be nice.

    1. The reaction of the sheep is quite interesting. I am used to the Welsh mountain sheep of the Gower Peninsula whp are very used to tourists trailing around the place. These sheep were used to their farmer on quad bikes but were quite concerned about us. They kept their distance. I am always very concerned not to spook sheep. There is a trail that goes up the opposite side of An Port Bay which lead to the tiny townland of Glencolmcille further along the coast. We went part the way along that one the last time we visited An Port. We had our elderly dog with us that day and did not to wear her out. The odd sign post would be nice but I sort of liked the wildness of the unmarked hike. I would have called it “bushwaking” but I think that’s the wrong use of the term. I watch an excellent TV mini-series called “The English” set in 1890 in Oklahoma (I think) and they refered to bushwacking which seemed to be a form of banditry.

  3. Love your works Emma and thanks for the introduction to Rockwell Kent. Can you tell me what medium he is working in? It’s certainly an inspirational landscape, but quite a hike.

    1. Thnak you Leopnie. He was working in oils for those stunning colourful pieces. He sketched in pencil and did water colour studies on site (some of which are now “lost”, hopefully they will turn up one day). A lot of his work was based on these sketches and memory which is very impressive. I know that how he worked up his large Alaskan painting after he had to come home sooner than he intended (after an ultimatium from his estranged wife – sort of “come home now or forget this marraige”). I think the effort it took to get there and the sheer emptiness (of humans) of the landscape gave you a sense of what Rockwell Kent was looking for. I am very unlikely to go to Greenland or Alaska (I wish) but I can visit a wilderness this side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was worth the effort.

  4. You are a much more adventurous hiker than I am. Especially consider all the pins and screws. I’m glad you found some stunning views for your efforts!

    1. Well, I am not really. I was pretty terrified all the way up but the extra support from the hikking poles gave me lots of confidence.

  5. I can see why you didn’t make that scary trek down to the beach! The end of the video is stomach turning… haha… But what a place. The photos and paintings are just stunning.

    1. Yes that was my reaction too. My husband says “There’s a rope you can hang on to”. I have been to those sorts of places BEFORE I broke my leg. I wont be risking getting stuck on that beautiful beach. There would little chance of a rescue!!

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